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Why Armagh For The Bramley Apple?

WHY ARMAGH FOR THE BRAMLEY APPLE ?

Climate And Terrain

The Orchard County enjoys an inland location, protected from the cooling breezes of the sea by the Mourne Mountains and the Ring of Gullion to the east, and the Sperrin Mountains to the west. It also benefits from the moderating influence of nearby Lough Neagh. As a result, it gets fewer late frosts than most other areas and the well-maintained hedgerows around the orchards act as protective windbreaks.

In addition, Armagh’s mild, damp climate is particularly suited to the production of cooking apples. The lower temperatures mean there are fewer invasive insects to attack the fruit and the cooler conditions allow Armagh Bramley apples to grow more slowly than fruit in other orchards, giving the apples their unique taste and texture.

Ideal Soil

Much of the Bramley apple region of County Armagh is underpinned by limestone rock. This produces the well-drained, loam soils on which apples grow best (loam soils have roughly equal parts of clay, silt, and sand). Armagh Bramley apple trees flourish in this highly fertile loam soil. Their roots can penetrate the soil to a considerable depth and it is particularly high in calcium and essential nutrients, with a pure and abundant water supply.

Drumlin Landscape

Most of Armagh’s orchards are situated on the low drumlin hills that pepper this county. These small hillocks, with their ‘basket of eggs’ topography, were deposited about 10,000 years ago, as huge ice sheets melted and retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. The fertile, well-drained slopes are ideal for plant nutrition and their south-facing orientation provides protection from frost and gives the orchards maximum exposure to the sun’s rays.

Apples and Orchards Armagh
Apples and Orchards Armagh

Smaller Trees, Higher Yields

Today’s Armagh Bramley orchards look very different from those of a generation ago. Orchards are now planted at a much higher tree density (with corresponding higher yield because dwarfing rootstocks are used). This produces more compact, trees, capable of producing apples at a much younger age. Their smaller size means that more of the tree’s energy is diverted into fruit production, rather than the outward growth of its branches, so yields are higher and harvesting is easier.

Trees are pruned by hand in summer and winter. Pruning of the frame and canopy is essential in order to maintain the health and well being of the orchard and for consistent crop yield. The expert skills required for pruning can only be acquired through long experience.

Picking And Storage

Apples are harvested by hand between early September and late October. The exact time of picking varies from year to year as it depends on such factors as the type of season, fruit maturity, tree age and rootstock type. Apples are usually harvested once they have achieved a minimum average diameter of 75mm (about three inches). Maturity is another key factor – they must be picked before more than 20 percent of their stored carbohydrate has been converted from starch to sugar.  Picking requires great care and skill, so pickers are trained to handle fruit in ways that will not mark the skin or damage the flesh.

In the past, apples were placed into wooden cases and stored in barns for no more than three months. However, modern storage involves the use of low oxygen storage units. These refrigerate the apples at a constant 4.3°C, allowing them to be safely stored for up to one year.

Good Agricultural Practice

Armagh apple growers pride themselves on following the code of Good Agricultural Practice in the production of Armagh Bramley apples. For example, during the blossom period, pollination is undertaken by honeybees, so great care is taken with all spray applications in order to protect the welfare of these and other beneficial insects.

When it comes to fertilising the Bramley apple trees, widespread use is made of foliar nutrition. The technique involves spraying fertilisers directly onto the leaves. This not only helps to target nutrition to the parts of the fruiting tree that specifically need it, but also helps to reduce the need for fertilisers to be applied to the soil.

Loughgall Apples

Apples are harvested by hand between early September and late October. The exact time of picking varies from year to year as it depends on such factors as the type of season, fruit maturity, tree age and rootstock type.